Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Big NASCAR “But”

(No jokes about my anatomy, please.)
By Tammy Kaehler

I’ve spent some time here the last couple weeks explaining how I find NASCAR on television kind of boring. That I don’t get ovals. That I much prefer sportscar racing. There’s one big caveat to this opinion of mine, one big BUT. There’s one aspect of NASCAR that I flat out love, and that’s road courses.

See, I think stock cars on a road course are one of the funniest sights in the world. Certainly it’s the funniest sight in racing, with the possible exception of the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales in the pit lane at Sebring (but that’s another story). Stock cars aren’t built to maximize downforce or to corner well. They’re … well, I’m not sure exactly what they’re built for, but road course racing ain’t it.

They look like elephants running an obstacle course sized for gazelles. They lumber around, turning hard, braking hard—looking for all the world like the car’s center of gravity is up near the roof. And I do mean they’re wobbly. (Check that shot from Getty Images if you don’t believe me.)

Adding to the entertainment, the announcers cover the same inevitable points at the two road course races each season, with great excitement:
  1. The drivers have to remember how to shift! On a road course, they’ll be doing so a couple-dozen times a lap, compared to a dozen times in total on some oval courses.
  2. The drivers have to turn right and left! This gets them talking about road courses versus ovals, and which drivers are good and bad at the road courses. This leads to the last point …
  3. We’ve got special guest stars in the field, some road course ringers! The “ringers” are the road course experts who make or have made a career in road course racing (whether sportscar or open-wheel) and who are typically brought in for a ride in a stock car for just the road course races to get a win for the team. If they don’t always win, there are inevitably three or four ringers in the top 10 at ever road course race.
This past weekend brought us some good elephant watching. First the NASCAR Nationwide Series (the minor league) raced at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, one of the most beautiful and historic road courses the U.S. has to offer. Ron Fellows, road course ringer and multiple-time ALMS and Le Mans champion for Corvette Racing, almost took the win in a weird, caution-filled finish. Then on Sunday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (the majors) raced at Infineon Raceway (aka, Sears Point) in Sonoma, California. The winner of that race won by dominating most of the day, but the big story was of fraying nerves, tempers, and behavior. The late-race bumper-car action we saw should make for some interesting wars: of words during the coming week and fenders in the next race.

All in all, a highly entertaining weekend of racing! But if NASCAR could do one thing for me, it would be to go racing at more than two road courses each year. I don’t think it’s likely, but I’ll keep hoping. Is anyone with me?


  1. I too love it when the NASCAR guys hit the road courses. My fave part: the cameras that show off the drivers' footwork. The road-race ringers tend to downshift with classic heel-toe rev-matching, while the oval-track guys ignore the clutch completely, blipping the throttle a hair as they make their gear change.

    I can't help but brag a little: a few weeks ago my company, Flatout Motorsports, hauled a bunch of our rental Spec Miata race cars out to Road America so that several young NASCAR stars could brush up their road-racing skills. One of the drivers that day was none other than Reed Sorenson, who won Saturday's Nationwide Series race at the same track. Here's our blog post on this:

  2. That's pretty awesome, Steve! I met Reed way back when he was just starting in Nationwide, so I've followed his progress since then. My story about road courses and NASCAR kids is that the racing school session I took at Road Atlanta included three "kids" who'd just started for Jack Rousch (they'd just finished competing in "Driver X," ever see that?): Danny O'Quinn, Eric Darnall, and David Ragan. In a way, the initmidation factor was good, because I knew I'd never be *that* good, so I didn't even think about trying to be faster than anyone else, I just did my thing.